Total prize money at this year’s U.S. Open will be a record $25.5 million with the men’s and women’s champions collecting $1.9 million apiece. But the real action is off the court, where elite tennis players jockey for multimillion dollar endorsement deals and lucrative exhibition fees.
Younger rivals Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have challenged Roger Federer on the court in recent years, but no one touches the Swiss maestro off it when it comes to earnings power. Federer is the highest-paid tennis player in the world with earnings of $54.3 million between July 2011 and July 2012.
Federer earned $9.3 million in prize money and an estimated $45 million from sponsors, exhibitions and appearance fees over the past 12-months. His ace sponsor roster includes Credit Suisse, Gillette, Mercedes-Benz, Rolex and more. Federer’s biggest deal is with Nike, which pays him more than $10 million annually.
Companies gravitate to Federer because of his incredible consistency. He appeared in 18 out of 19 Grand Slam finals between 2005 and 2010, including 10 straight at one point. Federer extended his record for Grand Slam championships in July at Wimbledon with his 17th overall title. The win elevated him to the No. 1 ranking in the world, and he broke the record for most weeks at the top of the rankings. Pete Sampras held the old mark at 286 weeks.
Federer also commands the biggest fees at more than $1 million per event for exhibitions and tournament appearances outside the U.S. He is heading to South America for the first time in December for a series of five exhibitions that will be one of his biggest paydays to date.
The sports sponsorship market has been dinged in recent years along with the rest of the economy, but the best tennis players still pull in huge endorsement dollars. Credit the global nature of the sport, year-round tournaments and the demographics of the most ardent fans, who have high disposable incomes to spend on apparel, equipment, cars and watches.
The ten top-earning players raked in some $212 million in the past year, with roughly 75% derived from endorsements, appearances and exhibition fees. The top earners are split evenly between men and women. Players from eight different countries make up the top ten, with No. 6 Serena Williams and No. 10 Andy Roddick the only Americans.
Nadal ranks No. 2 with earnings of $32.4 million over the past year. The 26-year-old Spaniard won his record seventh French Open title in June before a knee injury knocked him out of the Olympics. The injury will keep him sidelined for the U.S. Open as well. Nadal has won $50 million in career prize money, second most all-time behind Federer. Nadal pulls down $25 million annually off the court thanks to million-dollar appearance fees and big sponsorships with the likes of Nike, Bacardi, Kia Motors and Babolat.
Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have won 29 out of the past 30 Grand Slam tournaments (Juan Martin del Potro’s 2009 U.S. Open is the exception). The Big Three also soak up most of the money in the sport.
Djokovic, ranks No. 4 overall among the top earners with $19.8 million during the past 12-months. Djokovic’s earnings are stunted by his shoe and apparel deal. He signed a 10-year, incentive-laden deal with clothing brand Sergio Tacchini in 2009, but the bonuses from his historic 2011 season blew up Tacchini’s marketing budget and the company stopped paying him. Tacchini also had distribution problems with its tennis apparel outside of Italy. Tacchini and Djokovic parted ways in May, and the 25-year-old Serb signed a new deal with Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo. Maria Sharapova leads five women on the list with earnings of $27.1 million, which ranks No. 3 overall. Sharapova completed a career Grand Slam with her French Open title in June. Her eight-year Nike deal is the biggest in women’s sports and should top $70 million, including royalties. It is money well spent. Sales of Nike’s Maria Sharapova Collection of tennis apparel doubled in 2011. Her ballet flat is the best selling female shoe for Nike subsidiary, Cole Haan. Next up for Sharapova: her own line of candy, Sugarpova, in conjunction with Jeff Rubin, CEO of IT’Sugar.